Warmer weather a wake-up call for bears

WildSafe BC coordinator Sharon Wieder urges Greater Trail residents to assess and put away bird feeders and other bear attractants.

Bears living within Greater Trail are enjoying the last leg of hibernation before the warmer weather and familiar smells awake them from their den, according to the local WildSafeBC coordinator.

Though Sharon Wieder’s work doesn’t officially start up until May, she expects reports will begin to trickle in soon.

“In Trail, obviously it’s warmer a lot faster than up in the mountains so if the snow is melted high enough up where the bears have been denning then they’ll start to come out,” she said. “The smells will bring them out like the fresh greens — grass is what they usually eat in the spring and things are starting to green up.”

In the meantime, she’s reminding residents that it’s time to assess their animal attractants.

“The big one is the bird feeder and convincing people it’s time to put them away or at least not leave them out all the time because that will attract all kinds of animals,” she said, adding that sunflower seeds offer hungry bruins about 10 times as many calories as huckleberries.

The problem areas continue to be determined mostly by geography; specifically in Trail this includes West Trail because it’s built on a mountainside, Glenmerry’s close proximity to the river, the new development behind Waneta due to the creek the runs right through it and Sunningdale, as it’s right up against the mountain. In Rossland, basically anywhere is considered bear grounds.

“The interesting thing is that bears have their pathways, and they’ve been using the same ones for hundreds of years,” she added.

This preferred route of travel was recently mapped out in a bear hazard assessment and is also clocked regularly on the WildSafeBC website by a wildlife alert reporting map, which can automatically tell residents when an animal is spotted in their neighbourhood via the Report All Poachers and Polluters line (1-877-952-7277).

The former Bear Aware coordinator’s focus has broadened since the program became supported by WildSafeBC, which not only deals with bears but other animals such as coyotes and cougars.

Though Wieder has received word that program funding is in place this year, the exact dollar figure won’t be known until mid-month when the BC Conservation Foundation will find out how much the government has granted. Community program funds also come from Trail and Rossland, which she said has provided $2,500 each for about the last five years. In other Greater Trail communities like Montrose, where there have been reported bear problems, residents rely on community newsletters and online notices for living with bear education and reminders.

The WildSafeBC program is designed to reduce human-wildlife conflicts by keeping wildlife un-habituated.

Managing attractants such as garbage and garden waste continues to be the key message but now with a broader scope, Wieder is also asking residents to manage their pets, too, by not leaving them outside unattended for prolonged periods of time and leashing them up on walks.

“Cougars do live in the area but they’re pretty secretive,” she said. “We’ve had a few cases in the past few years where there has been cougars coming into urban areas and that’s usually an animal that’s either really old, young or injured and for some reason just doesn’t have the hunting capabilities of a healthy animal so they’ll try and find easier prey”

Conservation officer Tobe Sprado hasn’t fielded any complaints of bears nor cougars in the Greater Trail area as of yet and couldn’t speculate on what the season will bring.

“It all depends on what the weather brings in a way of precipitation and that sort of thing,” he said. “If there is sufficient precipitation, especially in the more critical times such as July for the huckleberries, then things bode well for the public as well as for the bears.”

Last year, only six problem bears were destroyed in Trail, which is far less than the dozen killed the year prior.

Unfortunately, these figures aren’t necessarily a reflection of residents taking a proactive approach to living with bears but rather the dip was seen across the province.